Latest Developments, December 12

In the latest news and analysis…

Rebel recognition
The New York Times reports that the US has announced it now considers an opposition coalition to be Syria’s “legitimate representative” even though it is unclear how much authority the group actually has over rebel fighters:

“Moreover, [the recognition] draws an even sharper line between those elements of the opposition that the United States champions and those it rejects. The Obama administration coupled its recognition with the designation hours earlier of a militant Syrian rebel group, the Nusra Front, as a foreign terrorist organization, affiliated with Al Qaeda.

But Mr. Obama’s move does not go so far as to confer on the opposition the legal authority of a state. It does not, for example, recognize the opposition’s right to have access to Syrian government funds, take over the Syrian Embassy in Washington or enter into binding diplomatic commitments.”

Too big to jail
Global Witness points out that 47,000 people died in Mexico’s drug war during the time that HSBC “failed to check whether the dollars it was shipping from Mexico to the US were drugs money,” an oversight for which Europe’s biggest bank has agreed to pay a $1.9 billion fine:

“ ‘Fines alone are not going to change banks’ behaviour: the chances of being caught are relatively small and the potential profits from accepting dodgy clients are too big.  Fines are seen as a cost of doing business,’ said Rosie Sharpe, campaigner at Global Witness.
‘Instead, regulators should hold senior bankers legally responsible for their banks’ money laundering performance.  At the very least, senior bankers should be prevented from working in the industry, akin to the way in which doctors can be struck off.  Bonuses should be clawed back, and, in the most serious cases, senior bankers should face jail,’ said Sharpe.”

Uranium politics
NGO l’Observatoire du nucléaire sees the hand of a French state-owned company in the sudden alteration of Niger’s 2013 budget:

“This change, probably illegal, consisted of adding to the national budget 17 billion CFA francs (about €26 million) ‘given’ to Niger by the French nuclear company Areva, of which 10 billion CFA francs (more than €15 million) are set to go directly to purchasing an airplane for Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou.
This is a clear act of corruption, in moral terms if not legal ones, by Areva which expects thereby to maintain its grip on Niger’s uranium, in order to supply French nuclear power plants.

It just so happens that Mr. Issoufou is a former director of a uranium mining company, Somaïr, which is an Areva subsidiary!” [Translated from the French.]

Patent trolls
Reuters reports that in the US, more patent lawsuits have been brought this year by “entities that don’t make anything than those that do”:

“This year, about 61 percent of all patent lawsuits filed through December 1 were brought by patent-assertion entities, or individuals and companies that work aggressively and opportunistically to assert patents as a business model rather than build their own technology, according to a paper by Colleen Chien, a law professor at Santa Clara University.
That compares with 45 percent in 2011 and 23 percent five years ago.”

Corruption’s infrastructure
The Center for Global Development’s William Savedoff suggests some measures rich countries can take to help stem illicit financial flows, which he calls “a problem for world governance”:

“There is only so much the developed world can do to promote better governance in developing countries; after all, developed countries don’t have such a great track record of addressing corruption at home – whether it comes to Super PACs in the US or Berlusconi’s comeback after conviction on tax fraud. But we can make a big difference if rich and powerful countries were to stop protecting and enforcing repayment of odious debt; hindering recovery of stolen assets; allowing multinationals to make facilitation payments; and hiding oil and mineral royalty payments from public view.”

Aid business
Olivier De Schutter, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food, raises concerns about the potential impacts on Africa’s food security of a new US-led initiative to increase private sector investment in the continent’s agriculture:

“One of the [New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition] projects will see agri-food giant Cargill, subsidised by G8 development funding, take some 40,000 hectares of farmland in Mozambique. This comes at a time when peasant movements and smallholders across the developing world are calling out for their access to land to be secured in the face of land grabs.

And aid must not result in a long-term dependency on expensive technologies that may eventually force the most marginal farmers, who have the greatest difficulties accessing credit, to leave the land.”

Pathological consumption
The Guardian’s George Monbiot argues that consumer culture is “screwing the planet” for the sake of acquiring largely useless items:

“People in eastern Congo are massacred to facilitate smartphone upgrades of ever diminishing marginal utility. Forests are felled to make ‘personalised heart-shaped wooden cheese board sets’. Rivers are poisoned to manufacture talking fish. This is pathological consumption: a world-consuming epidemic of collective madness, rendered so normal by advertising and by the media that we scarcely notice what has happened to us.

This boom has not happened by accident. Our lives have been corralled and shaped in order to encourage it. World trade rules force countries to participate in the festival of junk. Governments cut taxes, deregulate business, manipulate interest rates to stimulate spending. But seldom do the engineers of these policies stop and ask, ‘spending on what?’ When every conceivable want and need has been met (among those who have disposable money), growth depends on selling the utterly useless. The solemnity of the state, its might and majesty, are harnessed to the task of delivering Terry the Swearing Turtle to our doors.”

Moral legacy
Mother Jones’s Adam Serwer suggests the makers of Zero Dark Thirty, the new Hollywood movie about the American hunt for Osama bin Laden, are “rehabilitating torture”:

“The critical acclaim Zero Dark Thirty is already receiving suggests that it may do what Karl Rove could not have done with all the money in the world: embed in the popular imagination the efficacy, even the necessity, of torture, despite available evidence to the contrary. Whatever the artistic merits of the film, that will be its moral legacy.”

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